Everything come back around full circle
Why do lies sound pleasant but the truth hurtful?
Everybody gotta cry once in a while
But how long will it take ’fore you smile?
—J. Cole, “The Climb Back”
Introduction for the new zine, Volume 20, now available
Deadlines make the world go round. At least in my world they do. Last year, nearly every deadline that we had for The Zine was kicked in the face by COVID, but I am hoping we can get back on track here in 2021. I thank each and every one of you for your patience as we navigate this new world.
Lately I’ve been waiting right up until my deadlines to start writing—not because of writer’s block but because major things keep happening in our country and our world. And they keep coming. Even as I’m writing this now, I’m fearing that tomorrow we’ll learn a big comet is headed for planet Earth, and Elon Musk is gathering up his Bitcoin and figuring out how to move his friends and family on a quick SpaceX flight to Mars so that the human species can continue.
by Luke Mehall, publisher of The Zine
It is also overwhelming to figure out where to start writing these days, but if there’s one thing I have learned about writing it’s this: when it seems the hardest to create, that’s when it’s the most important.
Luckily, just before I started writing this column, some good news came in on an issue that has been very important to me: Bears Ears National Monument. On the very first day of the new Biden-Harris administration, they released an executive order directing the Department of the Interior to “protect our nation’s treasures by reviewing the boundaries and conditions” of Bears Ears and other national monuments.
Bears Ears, which contains the Indian Creek corridor, is my favorite place on the planet. The climbing in The Creek is endlessly challenging, and after twenty years of climbing there, I still feel like I’m falling more in love with the place. The history is fascinating as well, and the more time I spend in the remote corners of this region, the more evidence I see that the Ancestral Puebloans were the original climbers of this area. (See Volume 15 of The Zine for essays by Len Necefer and Josh Ewing for more information.)
While the Ancestral Puebloans were climbing strictly out of survival—reaching high points using yucca ropes and sandals to have vantage points and avoid attacks from enemies—many of us climb for the survival of our souls. I know I do.
Though it might not be obvious in my writing, I am a person that is very much affected and motivated by anger. I don’t know why anger is my go-to emotion, but it always has been. I like to think I’ve found good ways to channel it—loud hip-hop is one of the healthiest means I’ve discovered—but what really soothes my anger is spending time in nature, ideally away from big crowds.
I love the sensation of feeling insignificant but part of something that is so powerful and inspiring. That’s truly the greatest gift that climbing has given me—in addition to many great friendships—the knowledge that we live on a big, beautiful rock floating through space.
At some point, year after year of living this climbing life, I realized that I needed to understand how I would give back to this activity that has shown and given me so much. The clarity that the most powerful tool I have is storytelling was only realized recently. And through books, zines, podcasts, presentations, and films, I’ve tried to do my best to say exactly what this land means to me and advocate in a poetic way why these environments should be protected, while also encouraging good practices on how to interact with the land when you’re there.
Recently, I’ve had more voices coming at me—exclusively on social media—that The Zine should only focus on climbing and not make political statements. “Stick to climbing” is a common theme.
But how can we “stick to climbing” when the land that we climb on is part of our political process? Bears Ears was the first-ever national monument to have climbing included in the proclamation, and this was the result of the advocacy of climbers, most notably the Access Fund, being involved in the political process. The future of climbing itself depends on climbers being political.
Early this year, we watched a mob storm through our Capitol to try to disrupt a fair and free election. This group of homegrown terrorists was fueled and led by former President Trump. And it could have been much worse. They were fed lies and conspiracy theories, and (tragically) I’m sure many believed they were doing the right thing.
The sad reality of this last election was that the true heroes were grassroots activists who swayed the vote. Stacey Abrams of Georgia is the first that comes to mind. Her voter-registration campaigns were essential to flipping the state blue. (Shout out to the role rappers like Killer Mike also played.) Arizona is another state that flipped blue, and Natives Outdoors—a sponsor of The Zine—which also worked on voter registration, played a role in that as well.
I am not someone who is blindly loyal to the Democratic Party. I consider myself an independent thinker, and to paraphrase Chris Rock, anyone who is automatically liberal or conservative without carefully studying the issue is an idiot.
I hope that at some point a third party will emerge in our country. But just because our system isn’t perfect doesn’t mean I won’t participate. There are many countries where expressing your opinion as a writer can get you locked up in jail or even killed. We have the First Amendment for a reason. And you can disagree with me; that’s fine; that’s also your right.
I will never just “stick to climbing,” just as LeBron James will never strictly “shut up and dribble.” Yet climbing remains at the heart of my life and this zine. The Climbing Zine will always be a vehicle for personal storytelling through the medium of climbing.
Climbing has given me purpose in life, a job, a community, and a realization that we live on an awe-inspiring, yet imperfect and unjust planet. What has it done for you?
As always, I’m accepting submissions at my email address below, and of course the best way to support The Zine is to subscribe and pick up some of our products at our online store or at one of the many independent shops that sell our zines, books, and merch. (If you live in Europe, our products are also now available through Vertebrate Publishing.)
Author of American Climber and The Desert
Host of the Dirtbag State of Mind podcast